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Sermon Series

 

September 22, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Paul’s Letter To the Galatians 6:1-10 [NLTse]

6 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

4 Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. 5 For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

6 Those who are taught the Word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.

7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Today we are going to be commissioning Mike Dickerson to serve First Presbyterian Church in the part-time position of Coordinator of Ministry Development. uuu (Here is a picture of Mike for those of you who might not yet know him.)

Mike’s been a part of our congregation for 14 years, I believe. He and his wife, Suzie, have grown children. He is a seminary graduate (among his other educational accomplishments), and is a retired bank president.

Mike has led and served among us in the offices of both elder and deacon over the years (a fairly rare thing since the two offices require such diverse abilities and temperaments). And he’s demonstrated his commitment to local and overseas missionaries, area youth, preaching, and church administration by his participation in these different areas of ministry.

As our congregation continues to grow I can no longer personally minister effectively to everyone who attends our church and effectively oversee our growing number of ministries. But we are not yet big enough to hire another pastor or full-time staff person. So the elders have created this part-time position we’re calling “Coordinator of Ministry Development”.

As I’ve shared in previous sermons, I believe the Bible makes absolutely clear that Jesus came to set us free from slavery-to-the-power-and-effects of sin, so that in such freedom we could love and serve Him and the people around us. I believe we do that by letting the Holy Spirit pour Himself into us (through Bible Studies, prayer meetings, and other discipleship groups) and us pouring ourselves out into others (through being a part of ministries that proclaim Christ and serve others in His name).

As we strive to establish more Small Groups for prayer, care, and study on the one hand, on the other hand it will be Mike’s job as the Coordinator of Ministry Development to help each of you live your lives to the fullest by finding ways to use the talents and abilities the Lord has given you in Christ’s service and to show the people of Milford, the Tri-States Area, and the world His steadfast love. In addition, Mike will be working to strengthen our existing ministries and establish new works as the Lord provides opportunities for us to serve Him and our neighbors in new ways.

Those of you who know Mike know that he is perfect for this position because of his knowledge of the Bible, his administrative experience, his direct, no-nonsense approach, and his love for Christ and for people. Mike will be sharing how he first met the Lord and gave his life to Him in a little bit, and how that’s led to him offering himself for Christ’s service among us today.

With that in mind, I hope that Mike’s joining our staff will serve as a challenge to each of us across the church, to get involved in Christ’s ministry here, as I’d like to share four reasons the Bible gives us as to the importance of serving others:

First, serving models the life of Jesus. uuu In Mark 10:45, we read that Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as ransom. We discover true greatness when we serve because we are becoming like Christ when we serve others.

Secondly, serving is the natural response to the gospel. uuu In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urges the Christians to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. The basis for this appeal is the magnificent mercies of God. The depth of the gospel message propels us into a life of all out service to Him. When we rightly understand what we’ve been saved from, we’ll desire to give our lives to Him in service, not to earn His favor or to repay Him but as a natural, loving response to what He’s already accomplished for us.

Third, serving utilizes the spiritual gifts God has given us. uuu In I Peter 4:10-11, we learn that each of us has been given a spiritual gift that is to be used to serve others. Each of us is on mission with God to build up the body of Christ so that all become mature in the Lord. As we use our gifts in the ministries of the church, not only are we helping others grow spiritually but we also are growing into maturity.

And lastly, serving combats our natural self-centeredness. uuu In Philippians 2:3-4, we learn that we are to look not only to our own interests but also to the interest of others, as a way of imitating what Christ has done for us. We are all naturally self-centered but serving in the church is a grace by which we combat those sinful tendencies and consider others more important than ourselves.

Let’s put ourselves to God’s work. Offer yourselves to be a part of Christ’s ministry here, and say “yes” when others approach you to serve in ways they believe you to be gifted and called.

For our good, for Milford and the Tri-State Area’s good. Because God is so good…



September 8, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Psalm 139:1-24 [NLTse]

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

1 O Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. 2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. 3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. 4 You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. 5 You go before me and follow me. You place Your hand of blessing on my head. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

7 I can never escape from Your Spirit! I can never get away from Your presence! 8 If I go up to Heaven, You are there; if I go down to the grave, You are there. 9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 10 even there Your hand will guide me, and Your strength will support me. 11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from You. To You the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to You.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. 15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. 16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! 18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, You are still with me!

19 O God, if only You would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! 20 They blaspheme You; your enemies misuse Your name. 21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate You? Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose You? 22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for Your enemies are my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

I had just finished preaching and was getting ready to sit down for the pastor to lead the congregation in prayer when this kid in the Youth Group who’d started looking up to me began clapping. And then some of the other kids began clapping, and their parents, and soon the entire church was standing up in applause! And that had never happened in that church before. (And it had certainly never happened to me before.) And although I was a little embarrassed by it, secretly it also made me feel good and special, and I began thinking that I’d even deserved it because it was such a very good sermon. And as the pastor began to lead us in prayer I remember recognizing my pride and silently asking God to humiliate me because I did not know how to be humble. And the Service continued…

After Worship I was chatting with the people around me and some of the kids who’d come over. And this woman – her name was Margaret – came over to me and pulled me aside. And Margaret said, “I don’t know why God wants me to say this to you, but He made very clear to me during the prayer time that I had to let you know He is not going to humiliate you, but that you can trust Him to teach you how to be humble.” And then she turned and hurried away, clearly uncomfortable…

And I remember standing there, looking around me, feeling so exposed: Like I was standing in my underwear right there in the middle of the sanctuary. And I remember looking after the woman as she walked away, and I was scared, wondering, “What else did God show you while He was giving you a tour of my secret thoughts?”

Psalm 139, and so many stories out there like I just told, make absolutely clear to us that God knows us intimately. And, of course, the cross shows us that He cares. God knows us and God cares.

As we are focused on Psalm 139 this morning it strikes me that at the heart of even being able to truly care about others is knowing them: Knowing each other’s joys; knowing each other’s sorrows; knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly about one another. Because only in truly knowing one another can we face and overcome the temptation to judge others, either favorably or condemningly. Only in truly knowing each other can we face our fears about the needs of those around us overwhelming us. (Because sometimes we don’t care and we don’t help because we’re afraid it will be too much for us.)

But, sometimes, we keep ourselves to ourselves, afraid that if others truly knew us then they wouldn’t like us or wouldn’t want to hang around us or think as highly of us as they do not knowing. And we can have some pretty dirty laundry in our pasts, and even some pretty unsavory things going on in our lives right now, even as we’ve begun to live for Christ.

The priests and religious leaders in Jerusalem during Ezekiel’s day had some pretty nasty secrets: Ezekiel 8 tells us they had begun worshiping the Babylonian’s gods. (Perhaps because Babylon seemed so great and powerful, so the leaders thought their gods must be great and powerful, too. Whyever…) But these priests and leaders were hiding their worship, doing their heinous secret rites in areas of the Lord’s Temple where the common people couldn’t see them. Ezekiel records that they thought even God wouldn’t see them! But God knew their secrets and what they were doing in their secret places, and He showed their secrets to Ezekiel in a vision, and Ezekiel proclaimed their abominations to all the exiles in Babylon!

God knows every thought, word, and deed of every man, woman, boy, and girl on the planet. He is intimately familiar with our every action and undertaking, our motives and the manner in which we pursue these things, even our thoughts before we’ve fully sorted them out, and our words before they’ve even been spoken! Jesus tells us to give our gifts of charity in secret and to pray in secret where only God can see and hear because God does see and will reward and He does hear and will answer all our prayers…

One of the nice things about knowing that God knows us so completely and loves us anyway is the freedom that can give us with Him (if we can grow content with the knowledge of it), but also the freedom it can give us with others around us, too.

Our headlines are regularly full of the dirty laundry our politicians or celebrities have tried so hard to keep secret. I asked you earlier what your most well-kept secret was. These politicians and celebrities don’t want their secrets known. That knowledge gives the media power over them.

But you and I don’t have to be concerned whether or not others find out about our dirty laundry. Because the politicians and celebrities are all about themselves (most of the ones making the headlines, that is), but you and I are all about Christ! So as the newspapers and newscasters are using the secrets they’ve uncovered to tie these politicians and celebrities in knots, you and I can let our secrets be opportunities to tell the world about Jesus!

As everyone else is trying to “spin” the ugly truth into something flattering, you and I get to tell everyone that, yes, that was how we used to live and, yes, those were some of the things we’ve done, but how Jesus has made us new: How Jesus has died to set us free from all that’s come before, set us free to ask forgiveness and be forgiven, set us free to make restitution and be reconciled; that He’s made us new creations, healing us from all that’s happened and been done to us, made us new creations, washing us clean from shame and abuse and that dirtiness that without Him just won’t go away: Set us free and made us new creations today! [Hold up newspaper]

And, of course, that’s one of the things I like so much about being Jesus’ church together, too. Because together we can share the reality of His setting us free, and the reality of His making us new.

Yesterday morning during the Men’s Bible Study we ended our teaching through Revelation 17 by asking each other: “What are the kings – the powers, the lies, the strongholds, etc… What are the kings – fighting for dominion over your life?” And it was as we began sharing our secrets, our weaknesses, our fears, the things that many men try to keep concealed and pretend are not there, that we broke through some barriers in our relationships. Being vulnerable, we opened up opportunities for us to be God’s agents of caring and healing to each other.

As we share our stories (stories that others try to keep secret) we can help each other trust and see His caring presence with us across our lives and help each other take those first steps of freedom and help each other recognize the healing, the newness, our coming to life again. As we experience Jesus’ care for us we can, in turn, help others experience His care and be a part of that care ourselves!

Yes, God knows us… intimately, and cares about us anyway! God cares! But, because Jesus lives with us and within us Christians, we can know all the good, bad, and ugly about one another, and even about those making headlines out there in the world, too, and (by His Holy Spirit) we can truly care, as well!

God cares! And we care! And it’s not a slogan, but something God has done in giving us human beings His Holy Spirit. But we need to activate Him in us! We need to put His caring presence and power into action! So, who’s been reaching out to you for help but you’ve been shrugging off in your busy-ness or fear? When we go from this Worship Service today let’s go, not concerned about whether or not people are caring for us the way we want them to, but knowing the Lord has sent us out to show the world He cares: Forgiving those who hurt us; helping those in need; serving our wives or husbands or children or parents (instead of demanding they serve us); … looking for opportunities to go out of our way to help, looking for opportunities to go out of our way to heal, looking for opportunities to go out of our way to pray, looking for opportunities to go out of our way to care…

God cares! And in Christ He’s set us free and made us a new creation, and He’s sending us out to care, too!



September 15, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Revelation 19:6-9 [NLTse]

6 Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder: “Praise the Lord! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to Him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and His bride has prepared herself. 8 She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.” For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.

9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”

Revelation 21:1-5 [NLTse]

21 Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the old Heaven and the old Earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

5 And the One sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then He said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”

Why? What? How? Now!

Sermon

Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic who was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager, talks about her wedding day. She says, “I felt awkward as my girlfriends strained to shift my paralyzed body into a cumbersome wedding gown. No amount of corseting and binding my body gave me a perfect shape. The dress just didn’t fit well. Then, as I was wheeling into the church, I glanced down and noticed that I’d accidentally run over the hem of my dress, leaving a greasy tire mark. My paralyzed hands couldn’t hold the bouquet of daisies that lay off-center on my lap. And my chair, though decorated for the wedding, was still a big, clunky gray machine with belts, gears, and ball bearings. I certainly didn’t feel like the picture-perfect bride in a bridal magazine.

I inched my chair closer to the last pew to catch a glimpse of Ken in front. There he was, standing tall and stately in his formal attire. I saw him looking for me, craning his neck to look up the aisle. My face flushed, and I suddenly couldn’t wait to be with him. I had seen my beloved. The love in Ken’s face had washed away all my feelings of unworthiness. I was his pure and perfect bride.

In a moment we are going to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper: Communion. We can often think of this Sacrament in connection with the past: With the Last Supper the Lord Jesus celebrated with His followers the night He would later be arrested, leading up to His crucifixion and sacrifice, or perhaps even with the Passover Supper the Jews celebrated to remember the Exodus and being saved from the Angel of Death there.

But the Lord’s Supper connects our life in Christ to the future, as well. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “When you eat and drink you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes back.” And we read, at the end of the book of The Revelation, of a wedding feast celebrating the long-awaited marriage of the Lamb of God and His beautiful bride, the Church.

Those who have accountant-type gifts and love to track such things report that no promise is talked about across the pages of the New Testament more frequently than that Jesus Christ will return at the end of Time to save His Church out of the world and establish a new Heavens and a new Earth where God’s righteousness is the way of the nations, welcome, and “at home”.

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man will come with His angels in the glory of His Father and will judge all people according to their deeds.

John 14:1-3 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am.

Acts 3:19-21 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and He will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For He must remain in Heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through His holy prophets.

Philippians 3:20 But we are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior.

1 Thessalonians 1:9 …you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from Heaven—Jesus, Whom God raised from the dead. He is the One Who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.

Titus 2:12-13 …We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.

Hebrews 9:28 …Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for Him.

James 5:7 Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return.

2 Peter 3:3-4 …in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?

1 John 2:28 And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when He returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from Him in shame.

Revelation 22:12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing My reward with Me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

The Prophet Hosea sums it up so well (2:16-20) When that day comes,” says the Lord, “you will call Me ‘my Husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ O Israel, I will wipe the many names of [that false “master”] Baal from your lips, and you will never mention them again. On that day I will make a covenant with all the wild animals and the birds of the sky and the animals that scurry along the ground so they will not harm you. I will remove all weapons of war from the land, all swords and bows, so you can live unafraid in peace and safety. I will make you My Wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you Mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord.

Jesus will return for us and consummate our engagement, and there will be such a dinner party that History has never known! And He will live with us: Not through the ministry of the Holy Spirit as He lives with us now, but in His person: Face to face! And the Bible tells us that with Him there will be no more death or even mourning, no more crying, not even any pain! Things won’t be the way they are now. Everything will be new!

I don’t know about you but I can’t imagine what that will be like. Because that would mean no more misunderstandings. (Since they result in sorrow.) That would mean no more illness. (Because they cause pain.) What would it be like if nobody ever said or did anything hurtful any longer? (Since hurtful words and actions so often result in crying.) No more loved ones dying, nor being afraid of what our lives might be like without them! No more “innocents” being killed or dying. What would a society – a world – be like without anger, without greed, without laziness, without pride, without wanting what others have, without resentment, without gluttony, extravagance, and waste? All the deepest longing of our heart’s satisfied.

What a supper that will be! Finally, we’ll be truly “full”. No more emptiness ever again.

The Lord’s Supper – this ordinary bread, this ordinary cup – is a preview of the eternal bliss that awaits every Christian. And the Lord’s Supper is God’s proof that He loves us unconditionally and is committed to getting us from here to there…